US should eschew interventionist policy
Immediately after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, we were told that Washington had got a rare opportunity to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East. The US cited the successful transformation of postwar Germany and Japan to further its argument. For many, the picture painted by the US was indeed rosy.
But what people have seen since former US president George W. Bush ordered the preemptive strikes is an Iraq transformed into a perpetual war zone.
The Iraq Body Count project estimates that 132,929 civilians have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq. The total death toll would be 184,000 if combatants were included. On Jan 7 alone, 50 people were killed, including 21 in gunfire, in Baghdad.
Not many people seemed to understand when people such as former Turkish prime minister Abdullah Gul, who is now the president, warned in 2003 that invading Iraq was like opening a Pandora’s box, something that later US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad agreed with.
US President Barack Obama, who opposed the Iraq war as a US senator, has chosen to withdraw American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan after ordering a brief surge in 2010. Former US defense secretary Robert Gates says in his memoir that Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Republicans may think that Obama looks like being on the retreat from the wars, but what he has done in the past five years shows that he still believes in military power and interventionism. In the case of Libya, the US and its NATO allies violated a United Nations Security Council resolution on no-fly zone to effect a regime change.
Obama pursued an interventionist policy in Syria, too, although his ambition was cut short because of strong domestic opposition, especially from his own Democrat camp. Nevertheless, the US still supplies arms and other equipment to the Syrian rebel forces, fueling the civil war.
The spillover of the Syrian civil war into neighboring countries, such as Lebanon, reflects the failure of the US interventionist policy. In Iraq, the spillover has enabled al-Qaida-linked insurgents to capture the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province, making the situation in the war-torn country more tragic and uncertain than many people think. And despite Obama’s claim that al-Qaida is on the run, the terrorist organization is now active in more countries in the Middle East than in 2003.
Obama wouldn’t have realized how shocking the result of WIN/ Gallup International’s End of the Year poll would be when, in his address to the UN General Assembly in September, he tried to justify the US interventionist policy. The survey of 66,000 people across 65 countries found that “the US is the greatest threat to peace in the world today”. A Pew Center survey covering people in 15 countries in 2006 had produced a similar result.
In the WIN/Gallup poll, the highest number of people (24 percent) said the US was the greatest threat to world peace, and most of them were from the Middle East and North Africa, where US military intervention, including drone attacks, has been at its worst. Such public outcry is a rejection of the US’ Middle East policy, at least as we know it since Bush’s tenure in the White House.
In the months and years ahead, the US is likely to supply more heavy weapons, such as Hellfire missiles, Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, to the Iraqi government to help it control the fresh escalation in violence in the country and the region.
But the past decade has shown that military power and intervention cannot resolve conflicts or redress people’s grievances. It’s time the US formulated a new Middle East policy that does not rely on these two elements. The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. Email: email@example.com